Art in the vets hall

MONCA pays homage to museum’s former tenants

“Homage to Vincent,” by David Scott, U.S. Navy, 1966-1970.

“Homage to Vincent,” by David Scott, U.S. Navy, 1966-1970.

Photo by Carey Wilson

MONCA Honors Our Veterans, showing through May 27.
Museum of Northern California Art
900 Esplanade

There’s a familiar yet unexpected face that greets visitors as they enter the main gallery for the MONCA Honors Our Veterans exhibit … Vincent Van Gogh. From across the room, the artist’s distinctive face and style are instantly recognizable in David Scott’s “Homage to Vincent,” a mixed-media portrait in a rustic, painted wooden frame. But on closer viewing, his rendering of the self-portrait reveals techniques that layer technology with painterly skill, fusing digitally altered images with brushstrokes and filters that evoke Van Gogh’s style.

Like many of the pieces by veterans in this exhibit, Scott’s art does not directly address his military service (he was in the Navy between 1966 and 1970), but it does reflect his many years of experience as an art director, graphic designer and computer artist.

Across the foyer from the main space, in the smaller Maria A. Phillips Gallery, papermaker Drew Cameron—who served in the Army from 2000 to 2006, including a tour of duty in Iraq in 2003—is showing work that does descend directly from the military experience. Cameron is co-founder of an organization called Combat Paper, which travels the world giving workshops and collecting military uniforms that are made into paper that is then transformed into art, books, journals, etc. The workshops provide “a space in which individuals can share their perspectives on war with those who have not experienced it firsthand. … [Thus] giving veterans a chance to reflect on and connect with others about their experiences.”

One simple but striking example on display in the Combat Paper portion of the exhibit is an undecorated rectangle of gray paper made with fibers from the uniform of David J. Drakulich, who was killed while on duty in Afghanistan in 2008.

Also displayed in the Phillips gallery is the ceramic work of W.A. Ehren Tool, who served in the Marines from 1989 to 1994. His four tightly spaced shelves hold 56 hand-thrown cups, each emblazoned with an image or phrase, many showing weapons of war or statements for peace. According to his artist statement, the cups “are part of more than 20,000 cups I have given away since 2001. … [Some] reflect my time in the Marine Corps. As I continue to make cups, they have overlap with new wars and old wars.”

On the day I visited the exhibit, a boisterous group of grammar school students from Corning were touring the museum and being exposed to the veterans’ art. Back in the main gallery, Japanese-American veteran David Isamu Tamori’s “May you live in interesting times” provided them a family history lesson in the form of a four-panel photo collage depicting the artist’s family—including his father, who served in the U.S. Army during World War II, and his grandparents, who were simultaneously imprisoned by the U.S. government in an internment camp in Arizona.

Also very striking are Ron Schwager’s large-format sheet photography prints, “Engineer’s Room,” and “Kilns, Gladding McBean.” Each large black-and-white print offers a wonderful depth of detail of its title subject, and the photographer’s eye for composition brings them into the realm of fine art.

There is too little space here to do justice to this very large and eclectic collection, which is most definitely worth a visit.